Disease in the Greco-Roman World
Biological evidence, while useful, has its flaws. For one thing, not all signs of disease show up in the bones. Those that do, may not be indicative of one specific disease, but rather, several possible diseases. Skeletons may also be incomplete and therefore lacking the bones that would show signs of certain diseases. DNA evidence may not be available depending on the condition of the remains. DNA also cannot show all possible causes of death and diseases. However biological evidence can also be very helpful. It may show the overlap of diseases in an area or be able to narrow down which disease a person had. Biological evidence can also give some idea of what life may have been like such as nutrition, or exposure to certain chemicals.
Archaeological evidence also has its flaws. For one thing, while we may find an object, we won’t necessarily know what it was for. In addition, we do not always understand the context in which an artifact is found. If we find an artifact that has a similar appearance to something we have today, we may assume what its use is. Archaeological evidence is also very useful. It can tell us what methods were being used to heal/cure diseases. It can also tell us who was using artifacts such as whether they were used by healers or in the home. In addition they can tell us the ritual of medicine and what things were important in medicine.
Textual evidence can also be flawed. For one thing, many diseases may be categorized under one broad term that, today, covers a much more specific set of symptoms. In addition, some of the terms used in textual evidence do not correspond to any disease or symptom we recognize today. Textual evidence may also be incomplete due to loss or deterioration of the pages themselves. This means that only part of what was written is available for analysis. Textual evidence may also be biased based on who wrote it and therefore may be unreliable in its suggestion of treatments. However, textual evidence also provides a very unique perspective into how disease was believed to be spread and how it was prevented. It is a very unique snapshot into how disease was treated and prevented as well as what people thought was causing it.
Dr. Megan Perry and students in ANTH 3030 Spring 2016